Writing Your Comic

There are books, college courses and lots of blog posts about writing for comics.  I like to break things down to simple bullet points that outline some common sense items we should all be doing, but forget or take for granted.  Here’s my tips on writing my webcomic.

  1. Syntax. If you don’t know what that word means, then you need to study up on your English courses.  Grammar and spelling are the essential keys to success.  If you’re not a wizard at these rules, then find someone who is and have them read your work.  Nothing turns off readers faster than poorly constructed sentences and misspelled words.  Don’t count on software hints for grammar corrections.  Know it or have it checked.  I personally have an “editor” who reads each of my comics and then slaps me upside the head with corrections.
  2. Timing. Listen to stand-up comedians and listen to their timing of a punch line.  I grew up listening to Bill Cosby and George Carlin, both masters at comedy.  Cosby’s story-telling timing is impeccable and even if his comedy is not your cup of tea, then listen for the timing of  his jokes and deliver.  This is accomplished in comics with character’s pausing in a panel, or even a blank panel.
  3. Re-visit your work. Write your script(s) and let them sit a day or more.  Come back and go with your first impression.  If it doesn’t feel right, re-write it.  I will draw my comics the night before they are due but I never write them the same day.  That is a recipe for disaster and your readers will see right through a rushed comic script.
  4. Write daily. Write for 30 to 60 minutes a day.  Even junk you’ll never use. “It was a dark and stormy night…” and get this stuff out of your system.  Like clearing the carburetor on a race car.  Clean out the system so you can go full throttle.
  5. Writer’s Block. Don’t fret writer’s blocks.  They come, sometimes often.  Find something that clears your mind.  For me it is sitting on my deck and watching the farm field behind me.  I take some deep breaths and let my mind go blank as I look at the scenery (and farmland ain’t much to look at by the way).  But that works for me.  Walking, bike riding, doing the dishes, or whatever helps distract your mind.  A mind that is stuck remains that way until you push it away from the rut you’re in.  I also studied Yoga and learned some techniques that help clean the mind as well of junk thoughts (like paying bills, the jerks at works, etc.).
  6. Don’t force clever. No one can be funny on demand.  Don’t try to be funny, let the situations dictate the comedy.  If you’re sitting there going “I need my character to say something clever…” and you can’t think of something, then move on.  Use what’s comfortable and come back to it as I stated in #3.  Your mind will come up with something clever if it’s in there.  Let it come out naturally.
  7. Write when inspiration hits you. I can knock out weeks of comics in an hour when that something “special” hits me.  I cannot predict it, so take advantage of it when it comes.  If you’re somewhere that’s impractical for writing (like your job) then try to do bullet points of the ideas.  “Bud in bar. Meets Canadians.”  Is all I wrote for one comic.  Those bullet points brought back my original ideas in full.  This is a really handy tool.  Short-hand for comic strips!

Share with me what your techniques or suggestions are and we can start up a nice conversation on how we all write out comics!  Thanks for reading!

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Posted in Featured News, Writing.

33 Comments

  1. Tips number 4 through 7 are DEFINITELY gonna’ help me. Up to this point, I’ve been terrified of writing my comics (weird, I know).

    Thanks very much!

  2. Hi Kelci! Welcome to the party!

    Writing is like anything else, you have to practice. Even the best writers have their issues. I know my editor does work for a very famous author and she’s constantly correcting grammar and the likes in his works. And he’s a published author! So, concern yourself with your content, write daily and have someone review your content for grammar and the like and soon you’ll be writing some great stuff!

  3. I always carry around a small notebook and pen, I never know when the ideas will come. This usually happens at work while under headphones listening to something with loud guitars before opening. Once the headphones come off, the ideas escape. I’ve also started jotting down things on my ipod too.

    I don’t worry to much aboot writer’s block (brick? lego comicker here) anymore, if I get it I can play with my cast and see if anything inspires me. I also have various storylines going on, so if one is causing a problem, I move to the others.

  4. “Tip 3: Revisit your work” is invaluable. The only thing I would add to that is revisit and revisit and revisit again and then again and one more time and another. I have at least an eight week buffer at all times and always end up tweaking minor things in my pages the night before they are to post.

  5. When writing as much ahead as I do (since I am clearly not a topical comic), I revisit my scripts twice. Once when I am penciling & twice when I am inking, to tighten up or pare it down for space. I find this helps with 1 & 2. What may have been hilarious to you when you wrote it, may be craptastic when you review it later (dear jebus, what was I drinking when I wrote THAT?!)

    For writers block, I find it goes hand in hand with forcing yourself to be clever. If you are trying too hard to write something, it just isn’t going to come. If you find yourself having written 4 scripts (if you do 5 a weeks) and are short of ideas for that 5th one, don’t, DON’T, for the love of Mike, do not force it just to have a completed week. Step away (this is the most valuable advice that can be given to a writer), do something else. I personally find that if I get a block, I walk away and when I am furthest away from my writing book, that is when I get the next idea and have to stop what I am doing to run back and write it down. I have plenty of voices in my head so I am fortunate to have only had writers block for, at the most, 15 minutes. But don’t worry if you have it for longer, do something to occupy your mind and you will find the fog lifts and the land of ideas is in view, the sun is shining and no birds will crap on your shoulder. It’s the truth, it’s actual…everything is…*please deposit another 25 cents to continue this call*

  6. I can only write when I’m not trying to. If I sit down with pad and pen and say “write tomorrow’s comic, darn you!”, nothing will happen.

    My ideas and concepts arrive generally when I’m doing something menial and don’t even have a pencil nearby. I’ve had four ideas hit me nearly at once when all I could do was rub the edge of a dime on a page from a shiny magazine. That’s inspiration. 🙂

    But I will agree with you. Like drawing, if you practice writing each day, it gets easier and faster. Don’t try to write a best-seller from the jump, but at least write. Wit and cleverness will pop up where you don’t see it coming.

    Great article, Byron. I would say more, but it’s difficult balancing this laptop on the john.

    Jus’ kiddin’. 🙂

    • Hey George, be sure to wash those hands…

      Good points! Creativity just comes when it comes. But practice trains the brain so when the real ideas hit… WHAM! You’ll write a months worth of strips in 30 minutes (or whatever).

      I just did this last night. Out of nowhere an idea hit me and an hour later I had a draft to an entire storyline. Now, I’ll let it sit a few days, go back to it and add and subtract the good and the bad. So you can never tell when inspiration will hit you, which is why taking the laptop in the john is a idea after all!

  7. I would suggest keeping a script for your webcomic before even hitting the pencils. That way you’ll know how much text you have per panel, and it will force you to edit and revise for length. Nothing is worse than trying to cram a paragraph of text into one panel.

    Most webcomics also follow a format depending on the number of panels.

    Introduction, Setup, Delivery

    If you have a format of
    1.
    2.
    3.
    4.
    where each one is a panel, you should be able to crank out scripts pretty quick.

    I have a hard time with this because I’m a long-form comic and I’m 6 panels over 5 pages so I need a script in order to keep the story development moving.

  8. Another great advantage in writing is to be Two writers involved. I’ve been blessed by the addition of Kurt in the Writing of The Drunken Fools and 2 minds working on a script helps a lot!

    Current story has been written for so long. And overtime we re-read it, we find some tweaks and improvement.

  9. I have never scripted a comic. Ever. I know, I KNOW, bad Dawn… BAD! I tend to “write” when I am driving on my long commute home from work. I picture each panel, and can script the dialog in my head… so I have a general idea how much room I need to leave for text. Usually.. I’d say 80% of the time.. it works out just fine. I’m a good planner and visualizer. 10% of the time I was a bit off when determining how much space I’d need, and the other 10% of the time I change my mind on the punchline…. and the new idea always seems to need MORE room, of course.

    To each his/her own. But I realize what a faux pas this is. I’ll punish myself with chocolate chip cookies.

    ;0)

    • Holy Crap, Dawn! Your key to the Uni-Sex Executive Washroom here at Webcomic Alliance HQ is hereby revoked. Bad Dawn! Must script!

      Now, in my commute, I get some great ideas so I have a little digital pocket recorder that I use to quickly dictate ideas. If that’s not around, I call my business phone and leave a voice-mail with the idea. But I use a MS Word Document that has a format like this:

      Comic Name
      Frame 1: Desciption
      Character 1:
      Character 2:

      Frame 2: Description
      Character 1: Dialog
      Character 2: Dialog

      Frame 3: Description
      Character 1: Dialog
      Character 2: Dialog

      And if I go more than a page width for a single character, it will generally tell me I have too much dialog for a single word bubble. This format helps me place my characters so I do not “cross” my character’s dialog from panel to panel and helps with pacing as well. Give this a whirl sometime and see if this doesn’t help.
      Byron

  10. I know I’m late to this party but in case anyone else gets here late as well, if you’re writing long-form comics check out Celtx. It’s free and brilliant. I use it all the time.

  11. I usually go with a rough outline, then I do a rough script where, like you, I have bullet points and general ideas of where the story is going. A day or two later I do thumbnail sketches based on that, and somehow the rest of the details come in at this point in a tighter script, then a day later I’m at the drawing board.

    As for humor, some of the stuff in my comic that people have found funny wasn’t intentionally funny, but hey, I’ll take it. I’m of the opinion that a lot of the writing process (dialogue at least) becomes easier if your characters are solidly nailed down. Give them a detailed personality and to some extent they will kind of drive the story… also, they have to WANT something! My main character is a walking gag in himself, but he’s a motivated gag 😉

    Like everyone’s been saying write, write write! And have some fun!

  12. I’ve been bouncing ideas back and forth between a few friends and seeing what works and what doesn’t. When me and another friend come up with something that we both think is funny I’ll bounce it off a few other friends and see what they think of it, if they laugh I know that it’s good. Other times tho, inspiration will hit at night, luckily I have a blackberry so have something to do quick notes with when I’m stuck at work.

    • Don’t rely to heavily on the friends… their trained to think you’re funny… or they can kill a funny joke. Best thing is to put out what you think is your best, then let your readers… the ultimate judges in the comic world… decide if it’s funny or not.

      Ah, where’d we be without our fun tools like our Blackberry’s? 🙂

  13. A little late to the party but this is a great article. A lot of it seems like common sense but it’s good to hear it spelled out once in a while!

    • You can never hear common sense stuff too much… we forget it and get caught up in the daily hustle of our lives. So, it’s good to get back to basics once in a while!

      Thanks for reading!

    • Yeah, yeah… Look, you’re an old fart like me, so cut a fellow a bit of slack.
      🙂

      If I were doing this for money, bet your ass I’d hire an editor… I’m the worst at grammar… but I beat the crap out of most of the kids graduating these days.

      I do the best I can juggling my wife’s disabilities, running my business, drawing my comic and running this site with my fellow Alliance tribe.

      By the way… what was the offending sentence that sparked the comment?

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